Lethbridge’s John Szabo soaking up Memorial Cup experience with Edmonton Oil Kings

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WATCH: The quest to capture the biggest prize in Canadian junior hockey is underway in Saint John, New Brunswick. As Danica Ferris explains, Edmonton Oil Kings rookie John Szabo is feeling the support from his family back in Lethbridge. – Jun 21, 2022

It’s been a once in a lifetime season on a once in a lifetime team for Lethbridge’s John Szabo.

As a rookie on the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings, Szabo has spent the season playing on a roster that includes eight NHL prospects — including four first-round picks — and needed just 19 games to post the 16 victories required to capture a WHL championship.

Read more: Edmonton Oil Kings players aim to cement legacy as ‘special group’ at Memorial Cup tournament

“Learning from the guys — you know guys like Jake Neighbours, Kaiden Guhle, Dylan Guenther — these guys are top-end guys,” Szabo said at a morning skate ahead of Edmonton’s first game against the Shawinigan Cataractes on Tuesday.

“Being around them every day, it’s been a really big highlight of my life so far, and definitely this season.”

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Five hours south of Edmonton, it’s also been a highlight year for the Szabo family who have put plenty of miles in themselves during John’s first WHL season.

“We’ve travelled through Saskatchewan and all through Alberta, we’ve never missed a game anywhere really,” said his mother Christina Szabo. “It’s just been so exciting that you want to be a part of it.”

Read more: Edmonton Oil Kings capture WHL championship with Game 6 win over Seattle Thunderbirds

Christina and Peter Szabo say it was clear from the very beginning that their son was in for a wild ride during his season as a 16-year-old.

“Throughout the season you get to meet NHL players coming through Rogers Place,” Peter said. “He met Sidney Crosby, and that’s his favourite player.”

When the playoffs began, it was only fitting that Edmonton would face the team that John grew up cheering for, matching up with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round.

“You know I grew up watching the playoff games there,” John said. “It was pretty cool seeing all the playoff things that they do, and being on the other side for once.”

The Oil Kings would knock off the Hurricanes in a four-game sweep, but the Szabos say there was no bad blood towards John from fans in Lethbridge.

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“The Hurricanes fans that were there at their last game there, they came up to us,” said Peter. “They wished us well, and it was neat to hear that.”

Click to play video: 'Hurricanes season done after Oil Kings sweep series' Hurricanes season done after Oil Kings sweep series
Hurricanes season done after Oil Kings sweep series – Apr 29, 2022

John had friends, family and plenty of former teammates in the stands for games three and four of the series at the Enmax Centre.

“Just everybody who John has interacted with since he was five, everybody came out and cheered him on,” Christina said.

“That’s what dreams are made of. Coming back home and playing on a team like that and being recognized by people, it’s really more than you could ever think of.”

The Szabo family is now travelling to Saint John, New Brunswick to watch John at the biggest tournament in Canadian junior hockey, and the message at the Memorial Cup is the same as it’s been all year from mom and dad.

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“Soak everything up like a sponge, because it’s just extraordinary what you’re experiencing,” Christina said. “And he knows that.”

Read more: Biggest prize in major junior hockey once again up for grabs as Memorial Cup returns

The Oil Kings’ round-robin schedule at the Memorial Cup sees them face Shawinigan on Tuesday, the Saint John Sea Dogs on Wednesday and the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday.

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